The State Department inspector general whose recent dismissal ignited a political firestorm sent copies detailing a sensitive investigation to his personal email account, according to a probe into his conduct run by the Defense Department's inspector general.
The inquiry report, dated March 17, confirms that fired State Department inspector general Steve Linick was the subject of a broad investigation related to the leaks of politically charged materials to journalists, specifically a draft evaluation report into Brian Hook, the State Department’s top Iran official. The report, which was provided to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, concluded that while Linick was permitted to send information to his personal email account to facilitate access while traveling, he was the only official in that office to have done so. The disclosure is likely to raise new questions about Linick’s suspected role in leaking sensitive information to the press.
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Linick’s firing generated harsh criticism from Democrats and many in the media, with opponents of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleging the former IG was canned for his efforts to investigate allegations of impropriety related to Pompeo and his staff. The Trump administration, however, has maintained that Linick’s firing was justified.
Details of the highly sensitive investigation into Hook—involving unsubstantiated allegations that Hook fired officials he saw as insufficiently hawkish on Iran—were leaked to the media without authorization, according to the DOD investigation.
The DOD investigation into Linick found that between March 2019 and September 2019 Linick sent 23 emails containing confidential work products from inside the State Department email system to his personal Gmail account. Eight of the emails Linick sent to himself, which were forwarded over a six-day period, contained copies of the incomplete probe into Hook. Linick was the only State Department employee from the IG’s office to email drafts of the evaluation outside the department, according to the report.
The DOD IG did not find evidence that Linick leaked the evaluation to journalists. Nevertheless, the revelation is likely to fuel criticism of Linick’s conduct.
State Department officials close to Pompeo said that Linick was fired in part for refusing to allow an independent probe to be conducted into his actions.
Linick was ordered by superiors to report the unauthorized leaks to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, according to Brian Bulatao, the undersecretary of state for management and a close ally of Pompeo’s.
Bulatao alleged that Linick did not obey this order, instead selecting his own peer reviewer.
Additionally, Linick allegedly refused to share the results of this investigation with the State Department.
A Republican congressional staffer familiar with the investigation said there is increasing evidence that Linick was the source of the unauthorized leaks about Hook.
"They used official and unofficial channels to make sure the report into Hook was flagged for multiple parties on and off the Hill, guaranteeing that it would eventually leak," according to the source, who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon on background about the investigation. "They used private accounts that ensured they could cover their tracks. This was a hit job."
Federal employees are generally prohibited from moving official documents into their personal email accounts for security concerns and the potential for unauthorized leaks. The State Department investigated similar claims about former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who violated department rules by using a homebrewed server to store sensitive and confidential information.
Parts of the DOD’s IG report, including the names of over a dozen officials interviewed in connection with the investigation into Linick, remain redacted.